Sensemaking - for innovation

The landscape of products and services is changing rapidly, partly in response to new crises like extreme weather events  and Coronavirus, but also because of changing demographics, health and new regulations. 

People are changing how they behave because the landscape is changing around them

Qualitative research is the ideal way to understand these changes from a consumer perspective.   

As a first in our industry, we have developed our own technique perfectly suited to understand changing landscapes.

  • It is based on the theory of Sensemaking.
  • It uses advanced qualitative research techniques such as narratives and projective techniques
  • It is designed to help clients figure out what this new landscape looks like, and discover how consumers are navigating their way through it.
  • It is based on a blend of anthropology, sociology, and social psychology.

It is different from 'decision-making' research

Conventional decision-making research asks people about the 'decisions' they have made - about the product or brand they chose and what criteria they used to make their decision. This research typically

  • Ignores everything that has led the person up this point
  • Assumes that once the decision is made, it is made for ever

In confusing and new environments, the decisions that people make in life are not like that. We often find for example, that people 'wade into' situations and then need to make sense of what is happening around them before they can do anything. 

Sensemaking explains the vegetarian experience perfectly

Take vegetarianism as an example. The vegetarian landscape is evolving rapidly, with the advent of plant-based foods. Becoming a vegetarian was always a big decision but now it has become more complicated. Our research based on sensemaking shows that becoming a vegetarian is not just a choice between different food products; it's a manifestation of someone's self-identity at a stage in their life. The decision to stop eating meat is only one part of it - vegetarians, pescatarians, flexitarians and others review and revise their diet over many years as they 'make sense of' how to balance their diet, their social beliefs and their social relationships. 

As a research agency, we are going out on a limb here, challenging the research industry to stop pretending that people make decisions in some kind of individualistic choice-modelling kind of way. Naturally and without intending to do so, people assign meaning to their experiences. It's an active process often involving how they feel about themselves in that moment.

Use Sensemaking instead of 'attitudinal research'

Traditionally, researchers have tried to reach inside people's heads, to see the 'attitudes' or 'motives'  which they presume to be the forces that guide behaviour. The problem is that these attitudes and motives are invisible to the human eye, and very difficult to correlate with any kind of behaviour.

Sensemaking research is a challenge to behavioural economics

  • Sensemaking projects are about how people actually behave in the real world not how they behave in experiments - which is where most of the behavioural economics theories originate.

  • Sensemaking projects are non-judgmental. We don't say that people are flawed in their thinking. We say that people think the way they do to get things done in the best possible way they can at the time. Our job is to find out how they think.

Three facts about sensemaking research

  1. Sensemaking projects are interview-based projects. 

  2. They are ethnographic in that they seek to understand the person's world in situ

  3. They are based on story-telling. When people want to make sense of what they are doing or bring sense to what just happened to them, they tell a story about it. So, we gain insight into how people make sense of their experiences by listening to how they talk about the actions they took.

This is fresh thinking. You will not find this kind of research anywhere else. We are always happy to challenge existing ways of doing things.


Tags: Experiences, sense-making, Decision Making, Naturalistic decision making, People-centred research, Vegetarian

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